Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The nominee for the US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx

Photo of Charlotte's light rail train
Charlotte's light rail train (photographer unknown). Charlotte has another advantage over Baltimore with the light rail in that they are using the latest generation vehicles which are much more attractive and sleek compared to the light rail vehicles deployed when Baltimore opened their system.

has been selected because of his experience with transit.  See "Obama to Nominate Charlotte Mayor to Transportation Post" from the New York Times.

But what's interesting about that is for the most part, all of the transit stuff that's moving forward in Charlotte was done under the previous Mayor, Pat McCrory (who after one failed attempt, is now the Governor of North Carolina).

Although it is true that the grant application to the USDOT for the streetcar was submitted in 2010, although clearly the process had been underway long before the November 2009 election.

-- Charlotte Streetcar website

Pat McCrory was the mayor who got a local funding initiative passed and in the face of a voter referendum to overturn the transit sales tax--the vote occurred right around when the Charlotte Lynx system was about to open--he and others marshaled a campaign to defeat the anti-transit referendum.

... although McCrory hasn't been perfect.  See "Why Is Charlotte’s Former Mayor Challenging Charlotte’s Transit Plans?" from Streetsblog.

It's not unlike how I used to say that most everything that previous DC Mayor Adrian Fenty got credit for doing had been planned under the previous Mayor, Anthony Williams, although it was true that the bike sharing system that DC is now heralded for was created under his tenure (although DC gets a bit more credit than it deserves, except for pulling together the funding, because the reason DC was able to move so fast on the project was because it signed onto a contract already negotiated by Arlington County, Virginia).

The Streetsblog entry on the nomination is interesting and probably sums up both President Obama and Anthony Foxx pretty well with this:

Expanding highways, transit, and bicycling options simultaneously is a good approximation of what we’ve seen so far from the Obama administration: giving people more transportation options without making much of an effort to rein in sprawl infrastructure.

President Obama talks a good game, like with high speed rail. But he messed up big time putting off renewal of the Transportation Bill, not expecting the Republicans would get control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election. The current transpo bill preferences highway spending, just as much of the spending in the "stimulus bill" went to roads, not transit, despite the talk...
* Interestingly, somehow I missed that former Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee--he left ArCo after almost 30 years in 2009, going to the ICMA as an official-manager in residence--was recently appointed to be City Manager of Charlotte.  See "Carlee suggests postponing streetcar for more study" from the Charlotte Observer.

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At 8:47 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Again, candidate recruitment (giving an attractive city mayor a natinal platform) wins over policy.

Your thoughts on LaHood? I'd agree about Obama, but then again that really isn't his job (transit/urban policy)

At 6:49 AM, Anonymous LA said...

(Part 1)

the funny thing about this is that isn't it the case that most of the transit initiatives in Charlotte were planned under a Republican mayor, Pat McCrory, who is now the Governor.

Sure, in fact, Foxx was the first Democratic mayor of Charlotte since 1987. If Foxx's appointment was based only on Charlotte's light rail line, he would not have much of a resume for DOT secretary. But he was elected to the city council in 2005 and chaired the Transportation Committee. Then he was elected mayor in 2009 and has pushed the plans that Obama listed, in particular the downtown streetcar segment.

McCrory left the transit system with no funding to carry out the long-term growth plan. I am impressed by Foxx's conviction that a recession is the time to begin investing in new transit routes, not blocking expansion as McCrory apparently wants to do. Check out this post from Overhead Wire and an excerpt from Foxx's State of the City address in February, below.

Mayor Anthony Foxx State of the City Address
February 4, 2013


So how do we move forward?

It’s not rocket science. For more than a year, the Charlotte City Council, like Congress, has been stuck in budget deliberations. Last spring, after a record number of budget retreats, the City Council voted down our capital budget – even a majority of the budget committee voted against it. We edged toward our own fiscal crisis and, in the end, left the matter unresolved. We held additional retreats this fall, at the request of the council. In the end, they said they wanted to wait. Soon, we will begin budget deliberations again. While we’re going back and forth, our bond rating agencies are increasingly skeptical that we’ll figure it out.

As our annexation power runs out and the revenue growth that comes along with it, we will find ourselves losing population and economic growth if we cannot transform our economically challenged areas. I remain convinced that transit is a game-changer for Charlotte. Transit is a game-changer.

Along South Boulevard, light rail has resulted in $1.4 billion in private investment. The extension of that line northward is also expected to generate significant development. But the transit sales tax is tapped out. There is no new money on the table, not for a commuter line to Davidson and not for streetcars to East and West Charlotte or the airport. Financially, the rest of our transit plan is dead.

- continued -

At 6:49 AM, Anonymous LA said...

Part 2 -

Our efforts to jumpstart the streetcar do not flow from recklessness; they arise out of our recognition that it could be twenty years or more before any new projects get built. Without projects in the ground, we will experience the same sucking sounds of sprawl that will drive investment and population away from Mecklenburg County and Charlotte.

We recognize the need to work together to revive this system. That’s why, as Metropolitan Transit Commission Chair, I have appointed Republican Mayor of Huntersville Jill Swain and Democratic City Councilman David Howard to co-chair a task force to look at our system cost and develop new dedicated funding to pay for it. Eventually, we will need Raleigh’s help, and I am hopeful that Raleigh, and our Governor, will respond.

While they’re working, the Charlotte City Council is still working. We have not taken the streetcar out of the 2030 Transit Plan. We have simply added resources to move it along. Under discussion today is a 2.5-mile portion of streetcar waiting to be built, and communities in East and West Charlotte hungry for economic regeneration. I appreciate Governor McCrory’s longstanding position against it. Since last summer, many business leaders and even City Council members have parroted his sentiments. I have shown charts and graphs and empirical evidence of the transformational power of this project – the single biggest job creator of the entire $926 million package.

With all due respect, the opposition is not about economic impact. Every city in America that has done a modern streetcar has seen a positive economic return. With all due respect, it is not about whether to use property taxes for transit. Since 1998, we have used property taxes for transit. Last year, we increased the use of property taxes for transit to make the Blue Line Extension work. In future years, the Red Line Commuter Rail project funding would use property taxes. There has not been an iota of opposition to these projects. But the streetcar is different. Why?

In our own way, we, all of us, have fallen victim to low expectations. We look at our neighbors in East and West Charlotte, and we cannot bring ourselves to believe that jobs can be created in those corridors, that new housing stock can be built there or that businesses large and small will ever want to go there. If Charlotte were a business, we would have closed those business lines or tried to sell them long ago. That’s the difference between the public sector and the private sector. We don’t have that option. We either make our city better or we let it get worse. I am asking all of Charlotte to choose making our city better.

Let me be clear: this streetcar, and resolving this capital budget, is more important than baseball and more important than football. It is an opportunity to put this city on a path of living together with more opportunity, more economic vibrancy, more quality neighborhoods, more infill development, better schools, more people who want to live here and more businesses who choose to locate here.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt LaHood, I thought he was decent enough, a good cheerleader especially for sustainable transportation, far more than we could expect. And the agency programmatically is more oriented to it (e.g., the announcement of something like the creation of a supplement to the MUTCD on bike infrastructure).

But the Obama Administration dropped the ball big time by not going for the reauthorization when they had the majority (bird in the hand...).

Plus the stimulus program mostly built roads. We aren't hearing about HSR much anymore. We don't have much talk about a National Infrastructure Bank. Etc.

So I am disappointed.

WRT LaHood specifically, even Cabinet secretaries are constrained both by their bosses and the broader political and financial environment, and federalism and the ability of oppositional state governors to f* things up.

HSR could have been like the Interstate Highway program in terms of its ability to transform aspects of the transportation system.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

P.S. you're one of the few who kicks my a** on breadth of reading. SCMP! (although today I was reading an interesting piece on libraries from The Australian and another on arts from The Scotsman)

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

If it makes you feel better, I read about the Chinese subways elsewhere (economist? BI? Someplace normal) but could not find the link. So google news popped up the SCMP.

You might also enjoy the National from UAE.

In terms of Lahood, it is always an interesting excercise to write a memo to a new cabinet member. I certainly don't have the DOT expertise, and frankly not sure you do either? A more target memo (transit=urban) might be interesting but then again so in your entire site.

Again, from an outsiders stance, it takes a while to filter what a cabinet secretary does. Clealy, since that woman left we've had much less talk about tolling. That is good.

At least this guy is young. MIght have some energy.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yes, he might want to make that mark, for the next bid for office...

wrt "the memo" see:

I think what matters most might be laying out a differentiated agenda for cities and metropolitan areas vs. rural areas.

More importantly would be (yes, I know...) a national transportation plan that was integrated to cover all modes, from ports to airports-air travel to roads and buses and transit and highways etc. AND FUNDING.

And it would allow for a movement towards focusing investment where it has the most impact and builds the economic capacity of the nation, etc.

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Note that the content of the article in today's Post would indicate that I am wrong to not be elated...


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